Version tested: Wii
Goodness me, how tiresome these press releases are with their grandiose claims and ridiculous hyperbole. Just look at this one from Namco Bandai. Apparently new WiiWare title Muscle March "delivers an experience like no other". As if we haven't all, at one time or another, experienced being a large Ghanaian body-builder with a yellow posing pouch and a duck on his head, chasing a Russian punk, a blue spaceman and a polar bear in Speedos through a series of office buildings. Hang on what?
Muscle March is Namco Bandai's new addition to the stupid-em-up genre. (For other examples see Fruit Mystery, that PSone game with the family and the hospital no one can ever remember the name of but which might have had "Panic" in the title, and everything Japanese undergraduate game design students have ever produced.) You can tell this by the trailer, which makes the game look more complicated and interesting than it is, but accurately conveys the level of stupidity.
The principle is simple to grasp - and even simpler to grasp if you've seen the BBC game show Hole in the Wall, which is based on the same idea. It's best explained by Harry Hill but briefly: faced with a wall with a hole in it, you must adopt the right pose in order to pass through the hole without getting knocked over.
The good news is you don't have to don silver lycra and a bright red crash helmet to play Muscle March, or hang out with Anton du Beke in the green room afterwards. You just hold the Wii remote and nunchuck and strike a pose. There are only four of these (arms up, arms down, right arm up and left arm down, vice versa) and there's no button pressing involved.
The other good news is Sian Phillips does not appear in the character roster. Instead you have a choice of hilarious body-builders to choose from, plus the aforementioned polar bear. His name is Rossi and he's from Norway, by the way. The Ghanaian man is called Abebe and is described as an "animal lover", which would explain the duck. Then there's Spaniard Pedroso ("a gentleman", as you can tell by his top hat and handlebar moustache), Rio Hamao, a "bookworm" from Japan, and Russian punk Radimov. Rounding out the roster are American Tony ("everyone's leader") and, representing the UK, "happy cheerleader" Brenda.
The character select screen is perhaps the best thing about Muscle March. The bodybuilders all wear tiny posing pouches (with the exception of Rossi, in his Speedos, and Brenda, whose tiny pink bikini is the only visual clue that she's a woman). While waiting to be picked they do a brilliant dance - think The London Boys on TV-am, or Jean-Claude Van Damme having a really good day. In the background of the character select screen are a selection of random images - a giraffe, a car, sumo wrestlers, penguins. No idea.
The single-player game features three stages to play through - City, Village and Space Station. Which ever one you pick, the storyline is the same: someone (could be an American footballer, could be a blue spaceman, could be a weird pink monkey thing, could be an even weirder pair of piggy-backing twins in lycra rabbit suits, etc.) has stolen your protein powder, and you and the other body-builders must give chase.
You start out at the back of the pack, which means you have the maximum time to observe the pose you must adopt before hitting the wall. As levels progress, your team-mates get knocked out and the protein powder thief gets faster, until it's just you and them striking poses at a furious pace.
Despite the simple principle and basic control system, the game does get tricky in later levels. It feels as though the Wii can't keep up with your movements, so you have no hope of keeping up with your enemy. It could just be that you're rubbish, of course. But the end result is a sense of frustration, one that even the comedy way the body-builders' buttocks jiggle can't erase. This, combined with the fact there are only three stages, means that when it comes to long-term value, the single-player mode offers bugger all.
The multiplayer mode, Endless Rush, is turn-based. The principle is just the same except levels don't end with you furiously shaking the remote and nunchuck to perform a "takedown" on your enemy - you just keep striking poses until you've lost all your lives.
Unlike in single-player, there are no stages to choose from. Instead you race along a rainbow which spirals upwards around a beanstalk. There are nice clouds and the odd helicopter but the track has nothing like the detail or wacky humour of the solo levels, where you get to crash through buildings, race along subway trains and leap over rooftops, passing pirouetting ballerinas, poorly animated lions and so on along the way.
So, chances are you'll abandon Endless Rush and stick to single-player mode - taking it in turns with the other players to try and beat those tricky later levels. And chances are you'll have fun, at least for half an hour, and providing you're a bit drunk. In fact, Muscle March is perhaps the ultimate post-pub game. There's no button pressing so it's truly accessible for all ages and abilities. It's a lot simpler, sillier and easier to pick up and play than, say, Street Fighter or Mario Kart.
True, Muscle March is not as rewarding or satisfying as those games, and has nothing like the same long-term appeal. But if it's basic, Wii-based party play you're after, it's a lot funnier and more enjoyable than all those Wacky Super Sporty Party Family Time mini-game compliations.
Plus, it's a lot cheaper. That press release says Muscle March costs 800 Wii Points, equivalent to £5.60. Somewhere between that being written and the game appearing on the Shop Channel, someone has decided £5.60 is too much, which it is. In fact the game costs 500 Points - equivalent to £3.50. At that price, is it worth a punt?
It comes down to this: Muscle March is shallow, stupid, short, repetitive and crude. It's also the best WiiWare game I've ever played. It allows you to experience being a large Ghanaian bodybuilder with a yellow posing pouch and a duck on his head, chasing a Russian punk, a blue spaceman and a polar bear in Speedos through a series of office buildings. You already know whether you'd pay £3.50 for that.
7 / 10